What Matters Most by Luanne Rice follows the continuing stories of Sister Bernadette Ignatius and Tom Kelly, two characters from her previous novel, Sandcastles. Sister Bernadette is the head of the Sea of the Star convent in New England, and Tom is the groundskeeper. Long ago, before Bernadette took the veil, they had a brief but passionate love affair on a trip to Ireland that resulted in a child. Bernadette knew that she was being called to a life in the service of God, so she gave up the child to a convent in Ireland and became a novitiate in an order of nuns. Twenty-three years later, Tom Kelly and Sister Bernadette go on a search to find the son that they gave up, even as that son (Thomas/Seamus) is himself desperately searching for his lost love, Kathleen. In the end, each will have to face their own trials and their deepest fears and weaknesses as they try to recover a past that has been lost.
While it is not necessary to
have read Sandcastles to understand What Matters Most, it
does help develop a further understanding of the characters and the true love they share for each other. However, the reader will not
be lost by picking up What Matters Most first.
What Matters Most is an emotional read. Rice writes her characters well; the reader feels the pain and sympathizes with the plight of each person in the book. Itís easy to understand Tomís frustration with Bernadette, Bernadetteís struggle to come to terms with her decision to give up her child, Seamusís distrust of his birth parents, and Kathleenís desire to be held and loved. Indeed, the reader becomes so caught up in the story that it feels like it is happening to friends, to people you have known all your life. This quality demonstrates Riceís writing talent Ė she has the ability to write characters and situations that people understand and feel strongly within themselves.
The book is also remarkable because of its unique perspective. Writing from a nunís standpoint isnít something that is exactly ubiquitous in todayís womenís fiction. It is so interesting to listen to Sister Bernadette and see that, despite being an extremely religious woman who has devoted herself to God, she still has the same fears and struggles as any other woman. It really puts a human face on a somewhat mysterious way of life.
As the story twists and turns, with some surprising events that are difficult to predict, the reader takes an emotional journey through time as Bernadette and Tom race to find their son and understand the events that occurred after his adoption. On the way, Rice tackles some difficult issues: adoption, religion, abandonment, dishonesty, but above all, relationships and what it really means to be a family.